Da Vincian Principle 3: Sensazione

Sensazione — The continual refinement of the senses, especially sight, as a means to enliven experience.

Sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. If you think like Leonardo Da Vinci, you recognize these are the keys to opening the portals of experience, especially sight. Saper vedere (knowing how to see) was one of his mottoes and the cornerstone of his artistic and scientific work.

For Leonardo, vision was supreme and painting therefore was the greatest discipline. His uncanny visual acuity allowed him to capture exquisite subtleties of human expression and unprecedented details from nature.

Hearing, and therefore music, came next in importance. Among his many extraordinary abilities, Leonardo was a brilliant musician, much in demand at the palaces of his patrons. In addition to composing, playing and singing, he sought musical accompaniment whenever he painted.

Da Vinci also valued and cultivated the refinement of all the senses. He wore the finest clothes he could afford (touch). He filled his studio with the scent of flowers and perfumes (smell). He practiced with a passion the culinary arts (taste). He sadly reflected that the average man “looks without seeing, listens without hearing, touches without feeling, eats without tasting, moves without physical awareness, inhales without awareness of odor or fragrance, and talks without thinking.”

So how can we follow in Da Vinci’s footsteps and develop sensazione?

Looking and seeing — Leonardo wrote that “the eye encompasses the beauty of the whole world.” You can begin to cultivate keener vision by observing nature or life around you and describing its details on paper or in your mind. Study the lives and works of your favorite artists. Visit a museum. Learn to draw.

Listening and hearing — Every sound and every silence provides an opportunity to deepen auditory perspicacity. Take a few minutes a day to stop and listen to the sounds around you, then listen for the spaces (silence) between sounds. Leonardo wrote, “Music may be called the sister of painting … .” Study the lives and works of your favorite composers and musicians. Broaden your exposure to different musical styles.

Aromatic awareness —Every day we take 23,000 scent-laden breaths. Our five million olfactory cells can sniff out one molecule of odor-causing substance in one part per trillion of air. Leonardo was fond of creating his own personal cologne from rose-water and flower of lavender. Try making your own perfume. Try to describe in words the odors around you. Grab some family or friends, put on a blindfold and make a game of identifying a selection of aromatic items by smell only.

Taste and touch — Try the same blindfolded game mentioned above, except with objects you can taste or touch.

Adapted from How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci by Michael J. Gelb